About Insomnia: Symptoms, Types, and Potential Causes

By: SleepScore Labs  |  June 25th, 2017

We’ve all gone through times where sleep is hard to come by. Between work stresses and everything else life throws at you, sleep is often in short supply. But what if it’s something more serious, like insomnia? 

This article, we’ll dive into what insomnia is, and how it shows itself in many forms. Every type of insomnia requires a different approach to tackling it, but the solutions are not out of reach. 

What Is Insomnia? 

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, about 30 percent of adults have symptoms of insomnia, and about 10 percent of adults have insomnia that is severe enough to cause daytime consequences. 

What specific issues fall under the umbrella term of insomnia? The National Sleep Foundation defines it as, “difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when a person has the chance to do so. People with insomnia can feel dissatisfied with their sleep and usually experience one or more of the following symptoms: fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and decreased performance in work or at school.” 

Several forms of insomnia exist, each with disparate symptoms and causes including the following: 

  • Acute 
  • Chronic 
  • Comorbid 
  • Maintenance 
  • Sleep onset 

About Acute Insomnia 

Acute insomnia is often described as being able to fall asleep but later awakening and struggling to return to sleep, or lying in the dark unable to drift to sleep. You may also feel disrupted sleep for several nights to even a week or more. Other symptoms include disruptive and distracting thoughts, irritability, and fatigue during the day. This variety is typically a short-term problem, due to a stressor in daily life that is causing these issues. Acute insomnia rarely needs treatment because once the underlying issue in your life is resolved, so too will the insomnia. 

About Chronic Insomnia 

On the other hand, we have chronic insomnia. This form is classified as having a difficult time falling or staying asleep for a period of weeks or months. While it can share similar underlying causes with acute insomnia, there are often deeper issues that need to be dealt with. 

Chronic insomnia is a difficult variety to pin down an exact cause. It may be due to depression, chronic stress, and even physical pain, while the Sleep Foundation ascribes it to unhealthy sleep habits, shift work, clinical disorders, and certain medications. Regardless of the cause, it’s critical to seek a diagnosis and treatment to cure chronic insomnia. 

Treatment involves speaking with a physician, getting a physical exam, and even participating in activities like sleep journaling. Some patients are required to spend time in a sleep clinic to receive further evaluation. The main goal in treating chronic insomnia is to identify and deal with underlying conditions first and then prescribing proper treatment, including medications, therapies, or nurturing optimal sleep habits. 

About Comorbid Insomnia 

Comorbid insomnia has attributes similar to other forms of insomnia. But the main difference with the comorbid variety is that it typically starts because of a separate health issue. The National Institutes of Health note that depression, anxiety, mental illness, or substance abuse are often the associating factors known with comorbid insomnia. 

The National Sleep Foundation suggests that this form of insomnia needs be resolved swiftly, because of its tendency to worsen quickly and persist despite addressing the other underlying condition. 

Like all types of insomnia, those with this form have difficulty falling or staying asleep, resulting in daytime fatigue or lack of clear thinking. Treatments for comorbid insomnia always include addressing the primary underlying cause. 

About Maintenance Insomnia 

Maintenance insomnia sets itself apart from the other varieties because although sufferers can fall asleep with ease, they have difficulty staying asleep. The Mayo Clinic prescribes general “periods of stress” as the cause, though a Harvard Study found that hormonal changes may also be to blame for maintenance insomnia. 

Experts recommend improving sleep hygiene habits, implementing a few stress reduction techniques before bedtime, regular exercise in the daytime, avoiding caffeine and other stimulants, and creating an optimal sleeping environment. After implementing these new habits, maintenance insomnia typically resolves itself and usually does not become a chronic concern.  

About Sleep Onset Insomnia 

On the flipside of maintenance insomnia, we have sleep onset insomnia. This is characterized as the inability to fall asleep once it’s time for bed. Sleep onset insomnia ranges from an acute to a chronic issue, depending on several factors. Symptoms include irritability, daytime fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.  

If the issue persists and becomes a chronic problem, treatment is necessary. Sufferers will start to dread falling asleep, and this can sometimes change their behavior and even alter their psychological approach to sleep. Some simple treatments include pharmaceutical sleep aids, therapy, and the implementation of better sleep hygiene habits. If the condition continues to persist after these treatments, it’s important to talk with a physician about your sleep health. 

Talking to a Doctor 

You might be asking yourself, “When should I see a doctor about my insomnia?”. If you’ve experienced three or more nights of sleeplessness or interrupted sleep in a single week, it’s time to visit a physician. They can help diagnose issues by providing medical tests, sleep studies, and prescribing a sleep log. Before seeing your doctor, write down your exact pre-bed routine, being careful to not to leave out any details, and explain exactly what’s happening when you try to sleep. This will help doctors determine the best possible treatment plan and get you back to sleep soundly with ease. 

Your sleep health is important, and it should be taken as seriously as the rest of your health issues. The good news is that a better night’s sleep is well within reach! 

SleepScore Labs Solutions  

Download the free SleepScore App for insights and articles on how well you sleep, the quality and quantity of your sleep cycles, and sleep improvement progress with science-backed tips and insights. Download it for free from App Store and Google Play Store! 

You can also visit the SleepScore Store for a wide range of sleep-promoting products carefully curated by SleepScore Labs’ team of researchers to support your sleep-wake schedule! 

Sleep well! 


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